Cannabis and Psilocybin: Natural Allies in Cancer Care?
Tyler Chandler and Nicholas Meyer’s new documentary DOSED: The Trip of a Lifetime takes viewers on a deep dive into terminal cancer patient Laurie Brooks’ story. Spoiler alert: Brooks’ healing journey transforms into a new beginning thanks to the curative effects of plant-based medicines, namely magic mushrooms and cannabis oil.
Incorporating alternative medicines into terminal cancer treatment is an intense topic but Chandler and Meyer continue to approach their subject with curiosity and empathy. While their last documentary focused on plant-based addiction treatment, DOSED: The Trip of a Lifetime chronicles Brooks’ use of psilocybin and cannabis oil as adjuncts to standard Western cancer treatments like chemotherapy and surgery.
We meet 53-year-old Brooks at her home in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Surrounded by family, the story of Brooks’ terminal colon cancer diagnosis is foregrounded by tearful testimony about her abiding love for them. News footage describes Brooks as one of four Canadian patients approved to use psychedelic medicine for end-of-life anxiety. Brooks, who never used drugs recreationally, was one of the first patients the Canadian government approved for a special exemption to ingest psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
Brooks first learned about psilocybin’s psychotherapeutic potential from her friend Dave Phillips, a therapist with TheraPsil, a group of healthcare professionals working to make psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy available to Canadians living with end-of-life distress. Phillips contextualizes psilocybin’s history, from early research and applications to its criminalization in the 1970s and forward to current therapeutic protocols.
DOSED: The Trip of a Lifetime melds footage of Brooks on her guided trip with kaleidoscopic mandala-like animations that help viewers without prior psychedelic drug experience to imagine the visual and auditory hallucinations, altered senses of time and space and emotional changes that psilocybin provides. On her first guided trip, Brooks takes three grams of magic mushrooms to confront her biggest fear: the impact of her impending death on her family.
Brooks comes out of that session relieved, explaining that her grandmother guided her to the knowledge that her family would be okay after she died. After that initial trip, she didn’t feel a need for a second session but noted that receiving more bad news about her cancer progression could change that.
Throughout the film, expert interviews give viewers a more comprehensive, nuanced understanding of psychoactive medicine. American mycologist Paul Stamets waxes poetic about psilocybin’s spiritual benefits before elucidating modern scientific understanding of its physiological benefits. Stamets focuses on the phenomenon of neurogenesis, “an increased synaptic integration, the birth of new neurons.”
Brooks visits her doctor halfway through the film and discovers that her latest imaging shows her cancer’s recurrence and spread. Chemotherapy and surgery now pose significant risks to her. Facing the prospect of death again, Brooks takes a second guided trip to address her own fears about accelerated mortality. Brooks ingests six grams this time and achieves a sense of acceptance about the end of her life. One of the most potent aspects of this documentary is the way it reveals changes in Brooks’ emotional affect and perspective before and after psilocybin therapy.
Opting against surgery, Brooks meets physician Gabor Maté for a “real conversation.” She tells Maté about her life, including her religious upbringing, and the expectations she internalized from those experiences. Maté muses that, rather than seeing her cancer as an external entity with a life of its own, she could look at it as an internal process manifesting within her that is responsive to her relationship with the self.
Further inspired to live authentically, Brooks tells her mother about her mushroom trip and they grow closer. Then Brooks and her husband set off on a road trip to enjoy the now. They visit noted ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna along the way. During their discussion about psilocybin, McKenna mentions Rick Simpson Oil, a high-THC regimen that can induce cancer cells’ death via apoptosis while inhibiting future growth.
Brooks returns home early to meet entheogen provider Garyth Moxey and try Rick Simpson oil. Ultimately Brooks finds the 60-grams-in-60-days protocol too sedating so she listens to her body, switching to CBD for daytime and taking cannabis oil at night. Brooks is radically changed by this point, thanks largely to psilocybin therapy. In addition to shifts in her conception of death, she has also radically altered her approach to living.
DOSED: The Trip of a Lifetime concludes with footage of Brooks and her family receiving her latest scan results, which confirm tumor shrinkage with no further spread, and a note from the filmmakers that Brooks had outlived her original terminal diagnosis by four years by the conclusion of filming.
Following its limited theatrical run, DOSED: The Trip of a Lifetime is now available to stream on a donation basis at dosedmovie.com.